Do No Harm: Meta-Trends

November 29, 2017 | Dilshan Annaraj and Maya Assaf-Horstmeier

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World Vision Shares Internal Learning Process on their Conflict Sensitivity Programming


In this blog post, World Vision’s Associate Director for Peacebuilding Programming, Dilshan Annaraj, and Associate Director for Conflict Sensitivity, Maya Assaf-Horstmeier, openly discuss World Vision’s concerns about the effectiveness of their conflict sensitivity programming, and how it took on an organization-wide effort, with CDA, to evaluate and improve its practice. It is never easy to concede publicly that your own organization’s practices are not as conflict-sensitive as they should be. Nevertheless, Dilshan and Maya argue that this organization-wide research process and its impacts are proving to be a helpful learning experience for World Vision, and that their programing will be better for it. Read on to learn what they found in their research and the steps World Vision is taking in response to the findings.


Organisations working in conflict-affected contexts should: recruit diverse staff, pursue transparent partnerships, clarify beneficiary criteria, use appropriate assessment tools, and carefully track trends across multiple contexts. These are among the findings from a 2017 World Vision-CDA review of 55 Do No Harm (DNH) field Assessment reports conducted over a 5-year span from Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. After inter-agency validation consultations, World Vision published the results in 2017. The study provided some concrete nexts steps for World Vision to improve our conflict-sensitive programming. This article contains the background to the research, the principal trends in field context and impact, some high-level recommendations, and steps that World Vision has taken to improve our conflict-sensitive practice.

What is Conflict Sensitivity? Conflict sensitivity refers to the practice of understanding how aid interacts with conflict in a particular context, in order to mitigate unintended negative effects, and to influence conflict positively wherever possible, through humanitarian, development and/or peacebuilding interventions.

World Vision (WV) has been using the “Do No Harm” tool for more than 15 years. The organisation’s usage of the tool evolved from a simple 1- or 3-day workshop to a more thorough field assessment and programme integration approach. Since the organisation first conducted DNH field assessments in 2000, World Vision has sought constantly to improve its conflict-sensitive programming. Today the organisation has published its own blended learning materials and country case studies on all of its tools. The meso conflict analysis tool, Integrating Peacebuilding and Conflict Sensitivity (IPACS), and the macro context analysis tool, Making Sense of Turbulent Contexts (MSTC).

CDA pioneered the global recognition of conflict sensitivity’s importance in 1993 with the launch of the Do No Harm Program. Since then, we have continued to collaborate with organizations and practitioners to learn how they adapt, apply and spread Do No Harm. Click here to learn more.

Since 2011, World Vision’s technical staff working in conflict-affected areas have started asking:

1. What can be improved in the conflict-sensitivity tools we use in our programming?

2. What are some contextual similarities we observe across the places we work around the world?

3. How can we address common conflict-sensitivity mistakes we make in the contexts that we work in?

4. What are some recurring recommendations from our field assessments that the organisation should consider at the policy level? How can these recommendations be incorporated as design considerations for future programme effectiveness?


Contextual trends

CS Blog SqIn the meta-trends research, the authors found common connectors across multiple contexts: sports and cultural activities that engage young people; positive leadership figures; and markets and other public services (e.g. schools, health clinics, etc.). Common dividers included: revenge attacks; corruption; cast, clan and tribal issues; party politics, illegal armed groups and gangs; and religious differences. How these specific connectors and dividers work in each context varied but overall the themes had a significant influence in the organisation’s global programming.


Impact trends

The CDA and World Vision researchers found that staffing was one of the major element across the research contexts. The choice of people that World Vision hired resulted in implicit ethical messages about the type of people World Vision valued. The researchers found that background checks, especially regarding political affiliation, was an important tool to guard against negative community response. Likewise, co-locating diverse staff from different ethnic and religious differences and recruiting staff from other faiths was particularly important for World Vision given its public identity as a Christian organisation.

Likewise, partnerships at local levels emerged as a key trend contributing towards negative impact. When relationships between World Vision and faith leaders were not strong, the local community harboured doubts and suspicions about World Vision, and the organisation missed opportunities to model peaceful collaboration.

The researchers also found beneficiary selection as an important area for improvement. In many contexts, World Vision needed to pay more attention to how targeting groups represented all religious and ethnic elements of a community, and contributed to gender equity. Choosing the most vulnerable groups can sometimes exclude other vulnerable groups and create tensions between communities.


Other key findings

Most of the exercises in the study sample took place in development contexts. The researchers also identified a need for more conflict analysis during humanitarian emergency responses. WV staff used DNH extensively in more stable development contexts and mostly at a micro project level. The response from many field staff was that the sole macro analysis tool at the time, MSTC, was too time-consuming and costly to be of benefit in emergency relief settings. Field staff and technical leaders identified the need for a hybrid context analysis tool that was cheap, fast and “good enough” for emergency response.

Documenting the field assessment reports was not common practice for country programme staff. The researchers found that the lessons from field assessment exercises were communicated to implementers and some key decision-makers soon after each exercise, but field assessment staff did not document any findings for future use or dissemination beyond the project.

The meta-trends research highlights the challenge that conflict-sensitive programming has been limited simply to context or conflict assessments. The researchers found the biggest challenge was integrating context assessment data into project designs. Likewise, monitoring and evaluation indicators did not seem to include conflict-sensitivity information to the extent that the assessments would suggest.


What has World Vision done so far in response to those needs?

– The UK office and the international peacebuilding team developed a context analysis tool for humanitarian contexts in 2014: GECARR First trialled in Central African Republic, World Vision has carried out 13 “good enough” exercises in 12 countries, often as an inter-agency exercise. World Vision staff presented GECARR at UN-OCHA’s 2017 Practice Network event. GECARR allows aid actors to see how the broader context of conflict at national level will impact strategy, programming, security, and even staffing and allow us the make strategic decisions that will positively impact our grassroot level projects.

– In 2017, World Vision published a training manual called “Do No Harm for Faith Groups” co-developed with Islamic Relief Worldwide. The manual trains Muslim and Christian leaders on conflict sensitivity using verses from the Quran, Hadith, and the Bible.

– World Vision’s peacebuilding team developed a blended learning approach tying together eLearning with facilitated direct training to strengthen staff capacities in Do No Harm for humanitarian contexts. A leading eLearning firm, Moodle, has recently highlighted this blended learning approach.

– World Vision has started documenting and publishing short case studies on the use of conflict sensitivity in various contexts so that we can continue to strengthen our evidence base and identify ways to improve our practice.  Eg. GECARR DRC and GECARR Burundi

It is never easy to concede publicly that your own organisation’s practices are not as conflict-sensitive as they should be. It is difficult for peacebuilding technical staff to discuss matters that seem unrelated to peacebuilding – such as staff recruitment, partnership selection, beneficiary criteria, and monitoring and evaluation practices and systems. Nevertheless, the meta-trends research process is proving to be a helpful learning experience for World Vision, and we believe our programing will be better for it. We hope the research will encourage other organisations to consider their conflict-sensitive practice at the meta-trends level, and share their lessons with the broader humanitarian and development communities. We look forward to learning together.


This post was written for, and hosted by, CDA Collaborative Learning Projects. Subscribe to our mailing list to receive future posts from experts with unique insights, points of view, and experience on conflict sensitivity policy, program design, and implementation, or contact Jasmine Walovitch, at [email protected], to submit a guest post.

About the author(s)

Dilshan Annaraj is the Associate Director for Peacebuilding Programming at World Vision International.  His main focus areas are Children and Youth Peacebuilding, Integrating Peacebuilding in Programming (Humanitarian and Development) and Interfaith Peacebuilding/Conflict Sensitivity. Prior to this role, he was focusing on Integrating Peacebuilding and Conflict Sensitivity into World Vision’s Humanitarian and Development programmes and was leading a project with CDA on “Do No Harm Meta-Trends”. This specific project inspires him to work on the blog with his colleague Maya Assaf. Dilshan has been with World Vision in different capacities since 2002. [email protected]

Maya Assaf-Horstmeier has been working in World Vision for 12 years, mainly focusing on programming in humanitarian contexts. She brings experience from a national office/field perspective in disaster management programming including early warning and early action, disaster preparedness, and humanitarian response. In June 2017, Maya joined the World Vision Peacebuilding team as the Associate Director for Conflict Sensitivity. Her portfolio ensures the integration of conflict sensitivity across World Vision programmes, using both micro and macro context analysis tools. A large part of her role is building capacity of staff in conflict sensitivity and context analysis, as well as leading context assessments where needed. [email protected]

1 Comment

  1. John Okanga

    Time has come when we should all be engaged in such open and honest discussions about our work. only then can we see the need to improve what we do and therefore take bold steps to do this. This does not just help organizations such as WV that share their own experiences but many more others that may have continued to create worse challenges in beneficiary communities without knowing it! I am proud to be part of this learning from CDA!


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